Online vs offline, the saga continues

In a world where we are ‘forever connected’ through mobile devices, traditional offline media has taken a huge hit as magazine and newspaper publishing declines, failing to keep up with the sheer volume of content delivered through alternative websites and social channels. To some millennials and digital editors, it’s a very ‘online vs offline’ world, so do these two platforms work in harmony or work against each other?

by CHRIS ANDERSON, FASTROCK

January 2017

Since the recession in 2008, Europe has had to redefine its traditional media and publishing proposition; newsstand sales were obviously dropping, but cracks were also showing across the digital side of the business. Responsive HTML5 code/design for mobile and tablet did not exist, websites were slow, clunky and ran on an array of substandard content management systems across the board, making it quite the ordeal for digital editors and designers to manage sites, let alone deliver new content on a regular basis.

Thankfully things have now changed, most newsworthy brands provide fully mobile responsive sites and cell phone networks have never been faster. However, with the advent of newer, faster and more advanced digital tech, many no longer see any use for an offline medium and the relationship between online and offline seem somewhat fractured as newsstand sales and display advertising continue to drop.

In order to counteract this change in consumer habits, UK publishers have been relentlessly trying to bridge the gap, delivering more custom content than ever through 360 brand partnerships and bespoke promotions across their core brands. Men’s Health teaming up with BMW and Timberland, Elle with the likes of Lacoste and Selfridges and GQ with Montblanc and Mr Burberry. These creative solutions are now part of the core business within most publishing houses, allowing for a full user journey from print, to digital, to events, to social, to user interaction and sometimes participation. The bar is set extremely high and as creative solutions departments expand into mini ad agency-esque setups, UK publishing houses are finally getting to grips with digital content, unifying the old model with the new and starting to monetise the digital side of the business.

The only difference is that campaigns were once led purely through creative ideas, rather than a selection of output formats. Budgets are tight and numbers matter more than ever; click through rates, web traffic and campaign research are all steering campaign towards what will give the best return, flipping the creative process on its head, sometimes forcing creatives to work to a  format rather than from a creative concept or idea.

As creatives, this is something that the majority of us face on a daily basis, it is not always a bad thing and is not necessarily limiting to the creative process. Sure it creates a new challenge for designers and content creators, but part of our job is to be problem solvers.

On the upside, now that the technology is finally up to speed, there are a multitude of different ways for creatives to tackle a campaign or project; some may want to keep it lean and opt for email marketing, social posting or even launch their own digital magazine, where others may have the budget to originate video content or host an event, without a doubt the marketplace is definitely becoming more accessible.

Where digital platforms were once seen as extensions of a brand, they are now an integral part of their ecosystem and sometimes they are the brand; Bauer Media’s ‘thedebrief.co.uk’ and Unilad’s social channels are a sure sign that things are changing in a big way.

As a magazine veteran, I am a still a huge fan of traditional offline mediums; as a means of containing content and navigating through that content in a simple straightforward fashion, no phone or tablet app has managed to replicate the traditional magazine or newspaper. From being part of the team that launched the first Empire magazine iPad app; the magazine always came first and the app was a secondary enhanced version, providing additional content for those who shied away from the website, the magazine came first, but to ensure the best experience all three worked in harmony.

Where digital platforms were once seen as extensions of a brand, they are now an integral part of their ecosystem and sometimes they are the brand.

In truth, there is no one platform that is more important than the other, users consume media in varied ways and every brand is different, it is very subjective. High end fashion or luxury brands for example may allocate larger budgets to host an event or originate video content through a brand partnership, but their main focus may be on the thickness and coating of the paper stock that is going to be used for their latest print advertising campaign? Obviously, the younger crowd will champion interactive content and video, but there is still a place and respect for traditional offline media within the industry.

In truth, there is no one platform that is more important than the other, users consume media in varied ways and every brand is different, it is very subjective.

As someone who recently moved from the UK to the USA, it is overwhelming how important print and notably outdoor advertising is throughout the city of Los Angeles. Where the UK has become very digitally savvy in the world of digital and mobile media, the entertainment industry of LA is digitally focused, but print plays a much larger part in campaigns in comparison to European standards. Every morning, I’m greeted by endless advertising in the form ten metre tall billboards and wall decals covering entire sides of buildings, the bigger the better. The visuals are bold, yet minimalist here, think back to covers of the Face throughout the 90s, one striking visual and a couple of cover lines… every Art Director’s dream!

It’s a huge change from European content, which can be slightly over prescriptive and word heavy at times. Sure, clients want to maximise their creative real estate and ensure their ROI, but there is a healthy balance to be struck between clear communication and beautiful design.

Strong visuals can be key to the success of a Campaign or content, especially in publishing, where the phrase “If it doesn’t look good, nobody will read it” used to come into play. But with the obsession of keywords, SEO and endless digital optimisation we’re finding that words are becoming more prevalent throughout content delivery and copywriting, which work hand in hand with a visual more than ever, whether it be online or offline.

Our agency created the ‘Super hero’ campaign for the World Wildlife Fund back in 2016, which is a clear example of both working in harmony. The visual was striking, yet simple and the activation coinciding with the launch of the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, tapping into their younger audience through Clear Channel's outdoor network and extended to in-magazine print advertising thereafter. The campaign was a huge success, the messaging was clear, but the main focus was the creative idea and the final visual execution, and although this is also true within digital design, it’s still not quite as impactful as its printed counterpart, running across a huge 48 sheet billboard!

Whether we like it or not, digital is here to stay and moving forward online digital platforms will only continue to outgrow their offline counterparts. As more of us become digitally dependant and forever connected to our devices it’s easy to blindly consume endless amounts of content and forget how much love actually went into the creative ideas and design appearing on our screens, slightly numbing our senses to the offline content consumed alongside this.

As Primark facilitated the fast food fashion culture, are we moving into a fast food content culture? One thing is for sure, print was predicted to die many years ago, but it’s still here, there is more content available to us than ever before, so regardless of whether you have a preference for online or offline, remember that everything we see and consume has been created, considered and crafted as part of a labour of love through the design process… that we should enjoy.